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U.S. Forces Capture Palestinian Terrorist Abu Abbas - 2003-04-16


U.S. troops have arrested a major Palestinian terrorist in Baghdad and closed down an oil pipeline that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says has been illegally pumping oil to Syria.

Abu Abbas, the man who masterminded the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achilli Lauro, was captured in a raid in Baghdad.

He is believed to have been living in Iraq since his group, the Palestine Liberation Front, hijacked the ship off the coast of Egypt, demanding Israel free 50 Palestinian prisoners.

The hijackers were arrested after a U.S. fighter jet forced their getaway plane to land in Sicily, but Abu Abbas escaped. Although he was not at the trial, an Italian court later sentenced him to five consecutive life terms.

Last week, U.S. Marines uncovered what is believed to be a large Abu Abbas training camp east of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, at the Pentagon Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. forces shut down a pipeline that sent an estimated 200,000 barrels of oil from Iraq to Syria every day, in violation of UN sanctions.

"We have been told that they have shut off a pipeline. Whether it's the only one and whether that has completely stopped the flow of oil between Iraq and Syria, I cannot tell you," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

In southern Iraq, thousands of Shiite Muslims took to the streets to demonstrate against a meeting of former Iraqi opposition leaders, organized by the United States to discuss the country's future government.

The meeting was boycotted by some key groups, but about 80 Iraqis present agreed on a 13-point statement that advocates turning Iraq into a federal democracy and outlawing the Baath Party, through which Saddam Hussein ruled the country for more than two decades.

Meanwhile, President Bush says a military victory in Iraq is certain, but not yet complete.

"The centralized power of the dictator has ended. Yet in parts of Iraq, desperate and dangerous elements remain. Forces of our coalition will engage these enemies until they surrender or until they are destroyed," Mr. Bush said.

Lingering security concerns are keeping humanitarian groups from working in some parts of the country. The World FoodProgram's Christiane Bertiaume says the agency has hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid ready to go to Iraq once conditions become safer.

"Security is improving. We have been accompanying those security teams and we are really hoping to go back really, really quickly," Christiane Bertiaume said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says getting proper medical treatment in Iraq remains a problem because of sporadic fighting and looting, as well as insufficient supplies of electricity and water.

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